Residents rally around school

Proposal to close Catalina Elementary angers community, draws 200 people to meeting

Colin MacLean
Published on October 11, 2012

Part of the reason Elaine Tilley moved her family home to Newfoundland and Labrador was to escape an education system where she felt her children were considered to be more statistics than students.

“My oldest one did the overpopulated schools — and it don’t work,” said Tilley. “It’s not going to work. I’ve been there. It’s chaotic for the kids and very overwhelming.”

Her husband took a job overseas, she said, so she could have stayed in Alberta. But she didn’t want to raise her children there, so they moved home.

“We weighed the pros and cons, and one of the main reasons we came back here was because the schooling was a small system and we knew the kids would get a great education here,” she said.

The Catalina resident was one of more than 200 parents, teachers and community residents who attended a town meeting Tuesday night.

The question on everyone’s mind was, “What’s going to happen to Catalina Elementary?”

The kindergarten to Grade 8 school has been recommended for closure by an Eastern School District review. Its fate, and the fate of four other schools which are also on the chopping block, is not set in stone, but school board officials have said its actions are intended to improve the education of children.

The district’s line of reasoning has been that bigger schools mean more programs and greater opportunities for students.

Tilley, and many other parents, don’t agree.

The Telegram received a flood of letters to the editor on this subject Wednesday, nearly all in relation to Catalina Elementary. The other schools recommended for closure are Swift Current Academy in Swift Current, Epiphany Elementary in Heart’s Delight, Whitbourne Elementary in Whitbourne and Immaculate Conception in Colliers.

There were several common themes throughout the letters, including concerns about class sizes and quality of education.

“We wanted our kids to attend a school where we felt like family, where not only their homeroom teacher knew their name, but every teacher could greet them with a smile and a friendly hello, and I can honestly say that here at Catalina Elementary we are family,” wrote Krista Hong.

“We don't understand as parents/community representatives why the board has chosen to close down our school. The only advantage/reason that could possibly explain this decision is to close down our school in order to fund one of the new ones that are being built in larger centres. Is the government trying to eliminate the rural communities?” asked Sherry Burry.

Tough times

Christine Lony from Port Union wrote, “Our town has had a couple of bad blows with the last year or two with (hurricane) Igor and the resulting closure of the fish plant. Our community has just formed an economic development committee to determine how to turn things around. Closing our school is basically saying that you believe our town is dead and you do not believe we can recover from this. That is wrong!”

The letters go on — at length.

The parents have every right to voice their concerns, and they will have input throughout the ongoing review process, said Milton Peach, chairman of the Eastern School District’s board of directors.

“It’s a proposal at this point in time,” said Peach.

“No decision has been made. But we want to look at it from the real factors of what’s involved.”

Its been proposed that all five schools close in June 2013, so there is still plenty of time for parents and communities to make their cases for keeping their schools open, he said.

A round of public consultations will take place in each community over the next few weeks, he said, and there will be at least one other round of consultations before a final vote is taken for each school.

But when it comes down to making the final decision, the school board must make it based on facts, said Peach.

“We as a board have to make decisions based on what is best for the students, what we can do to give them the best programming, and not make our decisions based on emotions,” he said.

Twitter: @TelegramMacLean